REVIEW: ‘Coco’ ★★★★★

“Coco,” Disney-Pixar’s latest animated wonder, is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Heartfelt, genuine, full of love, laughter and music, it’s a celebration of enduring familial bonds, chasing dreams, and the beauty of Mexican culture.

As always, the visuals provided by Pixar Animated Studios are impressive. But audiences may come away from this one just as impressed by the heart and vibrant soul infused in every frame, every musical note, and every character brought to magical life.

What’s it about?

“Coco” is narrated by and focuses on the hopes and dreams of 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), born to a family of shoemakers who may just be, according to Miguelito, the only family in Mexico that hates music.

That’s a problem, since Miguel, despite the imperious enforcement of the no-music rule by his Abuelita (Renée Victor), dreams of being a guitarista in the mode of the late, great Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most famous musician in the country’s history.

Secretly, he’s taught himself to play guitar, and on Día de Muertos, the annual celebration of the “Day of the Dead,” he plans to take part in a talent contest to at last show off what he can do. But when his plans hit a snag and he’s forced to improvise in order to get on that stage, he finds himself transported to another place entirely: The Land of the Dead, connected to the Land of the Living on that one special day by a bridge of marigolds leaves.

To get back, he’ll need a little help from his family on the other side, who are more than happy to get the boy back where he belongs … as long as he promises never to play music again.

Suffice to say, Miguel doesn’t exactly go along quietly with that option.

Animation sets new bar

It seems that with every new original project (and even with some of its sequels) Pixar sets a new standard for excellence when it comes to feature animation. “Coco” is the studio’s 19th feature film, and they’re still coming up with ways to astound as never before.

In “Coco” there’s so much detail and eye candy that it’s impossible to take it all in with just one viewing. In both of the film’s beautifully designed settings – the living village of Santa Cecilia and the vast, sprawling, colorful Land of the Dead – audiences can see the extent of director Lee Unkrich and his production and art design teams’ cultural research and technical ingenuity.

“Breathtaking” is a word all-too-often used when describing the visuals in Pixar films, with good reason. But the description is as apt as ever here – if you don’t gasp at least once at the colorful splendor in just about every frame of “Coco,” you need to check yourself for a pulse.

Cultural celebration

But “Coco”, like so many other Disney·Pixar’s original features, stands out not just for the visuals, but also for the heart and emotion brought to life in its story.

So much of the emotion in this film comes from the culture it celebrates and the holiday the film builds its plot around. Día de Muertos is one of those cultural holidays that’s both grand and intimate at the same time, and “Coco” captures both expressions of the familial love and remembrance that characterizes it.

In counterpoint to that, the film also brings to life the romanticism of chasing dreams, and the challenge that can at times pose to familial bonds. What happens when dreams run counter to the wishes of one’s family, to the obligations and loyalty one owes to them in a culture where family is everything?

The film’s fair-minded exploration of that question, while gentle and often humorous, powers much of the conflict that drives the film’s story and delivers its emotional punch.

And what about the music, you ask? Traditional Mexican music – its energy, passion, and romantic spirit – is everywhere in “Coco.” Listen for the original songs written just for the film -- the “greatest hits” of Ernesto de la Cruz -- and just how well the talented Anthony Gonzalez performs them.

If you weren’t a fan of the musical genre before, you might just want to give it another chance once the credits roll.

Worth seeing?

For its extraordinary feats of animation, for its beautiful original music, and for its heart-filled storytelling, “Coco” is perhaps the best possible choice you could make at the movies this Thanksgiving weekend.

There’s something in it for the entire family, and be warned: if you’re prone to getting teary-eyed in emotional movies, bring the tissues. It’s sure to get you at one point or another.


Featuring the voice talents of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach Renée Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Siguenza, Gabriel Iglesias, Lombardo Boyar, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Selene Luna and Edward James Olmos. Directed by Lee Unkrich.
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements.